Craig Presnell

Text by Kit Knotts & Craig Presnell
Photos by Craig & Darcy Presnell
Click images to enlarge

Craig will be embarrassed but we can only call him the quiet hybridizing genius of South Florida. With no fuss or fanfare, he has set about making some of the most stunning new tropical waterlily hybrids introduced in recent years including 'Serendipity', the 2001 IWGS Banksian Medal winner.

Having always been fascinated by plants in general, Craig and his wife Darcy bought an aquatic plant nursery just southwest of West Palm Beach in 1989. "The woman selling the nursery told me if I could grow terrestrials I could grow here we are.


"I really backed into hybridization. Along with the business came two waterlilies, a pink capensis and a blue capensis. There was not much interest in water gardens at the time. I kept the lilies around because I liked them...had never had a lily before...and I'd notice seedlings volunteering from time to time giving me batches of more pink or blue capensis. I'd have to say the one event that directly led to my interest in hybridization was being sent seed for N. immutabilis. I promptly killed them but swore I would learn to raise lilies from seed so that would not happen again.

"I started collecting the N. capensis seed rather than let it float away. After a lot of trial and error...never found a good "how to" in any of the books I read...I was finally able to consistently bring seedlings to flower. I should note that, by this time, something at least resembling a "pond season" had begun to take hold and I'd built my collection of tropical lilies beyond just capensis. It occurred to me then, why couldn't I hybridize? It had always seemed to be the domain of 'specialists' so I never gave it much thought. As I considered the prospects I could see no big secrets, no cumbersome techniques that were required, just an ability to

 Darcy Presnell working at the nursery
grow from seed. I realized if a bee could do it, just maybe I had a shot at it now that I was comfortable with my cultivating abilities."

Always unassuming, Craig had to be prodded and cajoled for more information. We called the exchange "dragging it out".

"I was born in Asheville, North Carolina, but raised on the eastern seaboard. My father was transferred every couple of years...I was not an army brat, but a corporate brat to be sure. One constant was summers in the mountains. I was always drawn to the outdoors, hunting, fishing, camping. When time came for college, I got my BS in biology from the College of William and Mary in Virginia and my MS in Plant Science from the University of Connecticut.

"I met Darcy in '81 and we married in '83. I was working for a tropical fish wholesaler/importer and she for Saab-Scania. I got a job in Los Angeles with a reptile importer and she got a transfer with Saab. We tried that for a couple years but never could take the crowds of Southern California. We had just moved back east when we heard about the aquatic plant nursery here and figured, with my plant background and her business experience, we might make a go of it. That was just thinking of aquarium/terrarium really wasn't much of a pond business in '89.



Namesakes Darcy Jane & Craig's granddaughter Delaney Pete

 'Darcy Jane'

'Delaney Pete'

"Even now, though I work with plants all day, the hybridization thing is my recreation. Darcy will tell you I fret over each seedling like I was a mother hen. I tend to use my lilies in the crosses and, unlike Rich Sacher, I get very low rates of seed production and germination. Most of my favorite
crosses have yielded fewer than 10 sprouts, so I have to pamper them. If I get a large batch of seed, I don't tend to grow them out because for me the interesting ones have all come from the less fertile crosses. I guess I could say that if I was going in any particular 'direction' with my efforts, I'm looking for small lilies in pastel colors with full peony type flowers or, barring that, anything that strikes my fancy."

Making New Waterlily Hybrids - From Conception To Bloom
by Craig Presnell

 Craig's Gallery

 Luster Aquatic Nursery Web Site

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